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Learning from an Island
Near Seattle, kids experience an eco-friendly campus.
By Clair Enlow

For a “school in the woods,” IslandWood is not very deep in the wilds. But a stay at the 255-acre learning center on Bainbridge Island—just a ferry ride from Seattle—is not to be confused with camping. It’s more of a lesson in how environmental education and sustainable design work together, and how far the limits can be pushed when resources, commitment, and imagination are available.

Photo Courtesy the Berger Partnership

Respect for the land is designed into IslandWood. From the moment they debark for their three-to-four-day stay, visiting school kids can see clearly where their feet should go. Earth-colored paths—made of pounded, recycled concrete rubble—thread around giant firs as they lead away from the world of cars and houses and into the site. The forest floor, with its layers of duff, sticks, and snags, is right there at the rough edges of the walk. Visitors will find pushcarts just past the sheltering portal to help them take their essentials out along a network of paths to their assigned housing. Each bunk has a small window on the woods.

The built campus is a loosely affiliated gathering of institutional-sized structures dominated by unconventional colonnades of recycled logs paired with industrial details and materials. Solar panels cover one side of the butterfly-sloped roofs, which are also designed for passive solar gain. But the buildings only cover about six percent of the site. The rest is a restored natural landscape and a living laboratory.

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